Head in his hands, he slumps and his shoulders heave and shudder. He's older than old and he loosely grips his cane as his shaky hands stuff a slip of paper back into his coat pocket. He's at the post office to pick up his social security check from the Lesotho government. He's been told that he can't get it without a passport. He can't get a passport without this one piece of paper. He can't get this one piece of paper without...
"How far has he come from?", I ask our friend, Ntati Sefiri, as hoards shuffle past trying to pick up their own social security. Sefiri finds a chair for the man to sit in and squats next to him to draw out the story.
"He lives about a half hour out of town. He has this slip of paper as proof of his birth certificate and was hoping to get his check today, but they say he needs a passport". The man slumps further and shakes his head, one hand shielding his face.
We sit another half and hour with the man and I get increasingly frustrated with the broken system and with the man in a suit behind the desk who offers no help. Sefiri walks the certificate from desk to desk and still no one can help. Hands are tied without a passport.
"Ntati, can we at least give him a ride home?"
"Yes, that would be good."
We walk out to our car and the man shuffles slowly behind, shaking his head and mumbling the whole way. We hop in and open the door for him. He tells Ntati Sefiri something and shuffles on past our car.
"Where is he going? Doesn't he want a ride? He lives so far away! Why is he getting into a taxi?"
"He is afraid. He doesn't know us. He doesn't know what we might do to him if he gets in our car."
Sam and I exchange glances. What has happened in the life of this man that would drive him to pay for a taxi when he has no money because he is too afraid to ask for help? How do you even respond when you are moved by compassion and get turned down? It's hard to process that response. Not because we got turn down, but because I want to understand the painful history behind his response.
"You can't force someone to accept your love" said MAF pilot Bryan as he watched the man step into a taxi and drive off. Not always a happy ending but you're called to keep loving anyway.